IT’S THE FIRST EPISODE OF THE BEST SERIES EVER! This will be a biased review, you say? Of course it will be, Captain Obvious. Aren’t all reviews? We’re going beat by beat, focusing on the villains.
I’m going to review these as if we haven’t seen the whole series. But since there’s so much to discuss when we have seen the whole series, I’ll touch on those points in the “20/20” sections. You’re welcome.
Season 1, Episode 1: Awakening, Part 1
Reason(s) for existence: Pilot episode! And boy does it take off.
Main antagonist(s): Hakon the Viking.
Time(s): October 4th 1994, September 29th 994 AD.
Location(s): New York City, New York, USA. Castle Wyvern, Scotland.
The pilot episode of any series has a tough job: grab the viewers’ interest while introducing the characters, world, and plot. Just like in a novel, the “first sentence,” or the first few minutes, are critical.
1994 New York City, New York, USA
Gargoyles dispenses with an opening, instead giving us the episode title: Awakening. Listen closely: there’s a faint roar in the background. The next shot is priceless, a stone gargoyle. Behind it rolls the orchestral piece that will set the tone of the series’s sound track. Getting nostalgia goose bumps from the coolness that is Gargoyles yet? Thought so.
Greg Weisman, the esteemed creator of Gargoyles, says in the Ask Greg archives over at the wonderful Station 8 that they tried to keep the gargoyles a secret in the pilot as long as possible. That’s no mean feat, considering the series’ title gives it away.
We pan past the Chrysler building and onto a sky scraper that dwarfs anything else in NYC. Its summit in the clouds…which seem to be experiencing a lightning storm. It’s raining rocks rather than water, though.
Now we’re on an NYC street, where debris from above is smashing cars. (Who pissed off the Dungeon Master?) Gunfire and explosions rumble overhead.
Cop cars pull up, evidently aiming for a lawsuit, as they’re all right in the path of the falling rocks. The laws in this universe’s NYC must be different from ours, because the cops haven’t attempted to enter the building and investigate the war zone above. I’m pretty sure you don’t need a warrant to investigate this. Instead, they’re milling at the bottom, conjecturing about the cause of the…automatic-weapon fire, detonations, and chunks of rock.
A plain-clothes detective jumps out, evidently wanting to up the ante by standing in the rocks’ path. While she yells at everyone else to clear the area, since this is her lawsuit, darn it, she spots a rock that bears what appear to be claw marks. She wonders, “What could be strong enough to leave claw marks in solid stone?” Now, claw marks would not be my first guess if I saw four vertical slashes in a chunk of masonry that just dropped off the top of a skyscraper. This says something about her character, however. She’s willing to think outside the box.
Flaming Gargoyles logo up next!
TIME HOP! 994 AD Scotland
Suddenly we’re in Scotland in 994. Vikings are amassing before a castle that occupies the edge of a cliff. There’s only one direction to assault, as the sea guards other sides. It’s a really nice castle. It’s like one of the castles from the 12th century and beyond. We’ll just accept that the builders were ahead of their time.
Enter the villain:
A blond Viking with an eagle-winged helm leads the assault. His voice actor is Clancy Brown, who you might know as Lex Luthor from the Superman animated series.
In real life, Vikings began their raids on the Scottish lands in mid 700s. They had the country under their thumb by the mid 800s, though they still fought with the Earls of Orkney. So apparently this is one of the hold-out castles. We can also assume that Blond Viking is part of the dominant Viking rulers, not just a raider in a long ship. I base this on the fact that he’s got a nice selection of siege works, including catapults that do several D20s of damage to the castle.
We next meet the Captain of the Castle Guard. He’s a big dude. While his underlings are freaked out at the army, he’s not. He comments that when the sun sets, “Then we’ll see some fun.” There’s no way you’re flipping the channel now, viewer!
Confession time: The first episode I ever say of Gargoyles was The Gathering, Part 1. I basically watched the biggest reveal/spoiler episode of the entire show first. (Yes, thank you for that aaaaaw of sympathy.) Hence, I can’t say how surprising any of the first ep is if it’s your first time watching the show. I’m just guessing.
There’s also talk among the Vikings that attacking the castle at night is madness. Hakon puts them in their place.
Villain/antagonist first impression: This guy is into action and battle. He’s got a helmet and sword. He’s got a bloody army! He doesn’t have armor. His men are secretly questioning his sanity. This gives me the impression that he’s one of those risk-taker leaders with unconventional ideas, strong leadership ability, and no qualms about bashing somebody’s head in for questioning him. He’s here to rape, pillage, and plunder, so don’t get in his way. There’s not a shred of fear in this guy. There’s no question either that he can handle himself in a fight. Is he a brute? Not intellectually. He has a plan of some sort.
The Viking leader urges his troops on, saying, “I say those gargoyles are naught but chiseled stone!” Well now, a clue, Fred!
We the viewers are trying to put the pieces together. Edge piece: gargoyles are animate – maybe. Wonky piece: they’re only dangerous or present at night. Sky piece: they protect a castle. Four prong piece: they’re strong enough to leave claw marks in solid stone (assumption) and scare the crap out of Vikings.
Cue battle scene that goes on and on.
Hakon rushes in with his men, leading from the front. He swings his grapple and catches the crenelation of the highest parapet, at the feet of a giant stone gargoyle.
The sun sinks below the horizon. Stone “skin” explodes in flakes from the gargoyle to reveal purple claws. The statue is stone no longer; it’s alive! The gargoyle looks down at Hakon. So much for that “naught but chiseled stone” theory.
Hakon was not expecting this.
The gargoyle reaches down and catches Hakon’s left wrist. I’m expecting the beast to pitch the Viking. Nope. Instead, the gargoyle says in perfect English, “You are trespassing.” His VA is Keith David, who can rumble the lower register like nobody’s business.
Other gargoyles are also awakening.
Hakon shows amazing presence of mind: he draws his sword and swings at the gargoyle’s head. The gargoyle catches the blade. Blood wells around the edge. WHAT? BLOOD ON A DISNEY SERIES? Yeah, I miss the 1990s Disney production company standards and policies too.
Hakon sees the blood and yells to his men to fight. “They are not invincible!” He’s recovered quickly from his surprise and the shattering (ha!) of his chiseled-stone theory. Evidently the Vikings thought they were demons or spirits or dark elves up ’til now. Despite what he said, Hakon must’ve suspected differently from the get-go, since he attacked at night. You could argue that he truly believed they were stone, but why risk it if there was a chance they were invincible demons?
Hakon kicks off the battlement, pulling the gargoyle off. The gargoyle unfurls its wings and glides down. Now free-falling, Hakon grabs his rope one-handed and swings to safety. Gutsy much?
Villain/antagonist freeze frame: (This is when we analyze the antagonist by what we’ve seen of him so far.) He’s living up to our first impression! This guy is no slouch in combat.
We meet the other gargoyles as the battle continues: The trio is first. There’s the little green gargoyle with webbing attaching his arms to his sides like a flying squirrel. There’s the fat blue one that Bill Fagerbakke (aka Patrick Star from SpongeBob) voices. Then there’s the reddish, beaked one, whom the inimitable Jeff Bennett voices. Beaky takes off first, ready to have some fun. Next comes Squirrel Kid, after some jabs about Patrick’s weight. Nice little intro to the boys.
Next we meet a brown garg with a gray beard and beer belly. His VA is…the great Ed Asner.
Other gargoyles are flying around, dropping Vikings in the classic Disney death: falling.
Big Purple Garg reinforces Captain of the Guard. Cap speculates that the Vikings were following the refugees the castle took in. Now we have some back story. I guess the Vikings want to take the people as slaves, since the raiders already took their lands and goods.
Hakon is running around looking for advantage. He turns around and comes face to face with a gargoyle version of a bulldog. It’s huge, coming to Hakon’s waist.
As if that’s not bad enough, Hakon dodges the beast, only to meet the glowing crimson eyes of a female gargoyle. She’s voiced by Marina Sirtis of Star Trek: Next Generation fame.
The massive gargoyle Hakon first met lands. “I see you’ve met our watchdog. And my second in command as well.” He tells Hakon to take the Vikings and be gone. Why doesn’t the “monster” just rip out this guy’s throat? Of course, we know that this is going to come back to bite Big and Purple.
They toss Hakon off the walkway and into a convenient wagon of hay. As we all know from playing Altair in Assassin’s Creed, wagons of hay can save you from a fall of any height. Leap of Faith!
Hakon swears he’ll be back, right after he advances in the opposite direction and regroups.
Behind the main gargoyles we see a whole flock of the creatures. They come in a variety pack of colors and styles.
20/20 moment: When did Demona first get the idea to use an outside attack as a way to get rid of the castle’s humans? I’m thinking it was when they first learned of the Viking threat. She’s not the type to be merciful to enemies, so why else would she spare Hakon here other than she knew she’d need him later?
The Captain says the humans owe the gargoyles their lives. The garg leader replies, “As we owe you ours every day.” Ah, so this is a symbiotic relationship, where the humans protect the gargoyles as much as the gargoyles protect the humans. Props to whoever worked out this arrangement.
In the great hall the princess and her white-robed adviser are eating with the rest of the castle residents. I’m not sure why she’s a princess, as there is no king and queen about. She should be the Lady of the castle, right?
After overhearing some comments by the soldiers, namely that he’d fit in well with the gargoyles, the Captain of the Guard gives credit for the victory to the gargoyles. The Captain is an honorable sort. Here we learn the lead garg’s name: Goliath. The princess asks him not to mention “that monster’s name” in her presence. That’s unexpected. Why the hostility? We’ll see later.
Then the Goliath and his second in command stride into the great hall.
20/20 moment: What a transformation Princess Katherine will have! Her arc is a transformation story that actually makes sense. I love that she will raise the daughter of this “beast,” not to mention the sons and daughters of all the clan. She will help ensure the survival of the species.
This is 1994. You’re watching this show as a kid (or an adult!). I think it’s safe to assume you’re staring at the screen, thinking, “What is this show? It’s serious but has comedic moments. The animation, voice acting, and writing are fantastic. I’ve never seen anything like this.” You’re wondering too what’s going to happen now that the gargs have burst in on the fancy-pants royalty who think they’re monsters.
Head on to part 2! We’ll see the exciting conclusion to the kick-off episode. Trust me, this is just the beginning of the villain goodness.
Then in Awakening Part 2, we meet my favorite antagonist of all time: David Xanatos. We also meet my second favorite, his right-hand man, Owen Burnett.
Thoughts on the first half of ep 1? Share them in the comments!